The Bridge Waterfront Bistro

by Nancy White
You know that type of dining experience where everything just clicks into place- comfort, delicious food, convivial hosts, excellent service, great conversation- they all converged for us recently to create a memorable evening at the Bridge Waterfront Bistro in Ponte Vedra. In the few short years the restaurant has been in operation it seems to have struck just the right chord of beach town waterfront casual (as befits its location) and white tablecloth elegance.
The restaurant is situated near the base of the SR 210 bridge over the intracoastal waterway. For years this space housed a popular “fish camp” style restaurant, and with a few light touches the property retains the rustic charm that is the hallmark of a good, casual waterfront restaurant. The open kitchen is bustling, and glass cases gleam with impressive whole fish and shellfish.
Chef/owner John Cakmis and his wife, co-owner Jill Gustafson-Cakmis, aim to please and they hit the mark. It’s not unusual for the chef to leave the busy kitchen to check in with diners. Many of their employees have been with them for years, and watching them work together, they seem like a close-knit family.
An arrangement with the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra provides local artists with another setting in which to showcase their work, and the Bridge donates their percentage from sales of the art back to the Cultural Center- so diners get to view beautiful art, the local artists gain exposure with the Bridge’s clientele and the CC at PVB benefits. On the evening we visited, the work of local artist Gordon Meggison was on display.
“Our mission is bringing the arts into the life of our community,” explains Leigh Rodante, the Program Director at the Cultural Center of Ponte Vedra. “We provide a source of income and opportunity for artists to have more visibility in the community, and enhance the dining experience for patrons by providing a creative environment.”
Aside from the large main dining area, there are several other spaces tucked away – indoors and out. Most have a stellar view of the intracoastal and the boats gliding by. It’s easy to drift into a food-induced dream and lose all track of time here.
The Fried Oyster BLT is crispy romaine with a spicy Caesar dressing, tomato wedges topped with bits of applewood smoked bacon and crispy fried oysters. This dish alone or paired with a cup of soup would make a delightful and satisfying meal.
Insider tip – ask for the Cajun Bayou Gumbo ($6/cup, $9/bowl, $12/entree). Full flavored, dark and delicious, this is the real deal. Stuffed with crawfish tail, shrimp, sausage and fresh, tender fish, if there is better gumbo anywhere in Jacksonville or the Beaches, I’ve not tasted it.
Fish at the Bridge is locally sourced, diver shot and fresh. Shellfish is in abundance locally, and it shows up in many of the offerings. Chef Cakmis delights in explaining “we can put any fish in any dish- it’s all good.” They also proudly serve Certified Angus Beef.
Chargrilled Grey Grouper Eleni is topped with fresh local shrimp and mushrooms in a lemon herb butter sauce, served with roasted red potato wedges and sauteed spinach. Pan seared tender sweet Jumbo Scallops beurre blanc are on their dinner menu for $23- and the value is outstanding.
Chef Cakmis is Greek, and his Chargrilled Lamb Chops ($27) are one of many tributes to that heritag – perfectly executed. His passion for his craft, his staff, purveyors and their clientele came through loud and clear with every word, and it echoes on every plate.
Snapper New Orleans is a delicate cut of fresh Red Snapper (it was still legal to fish for it at the time of our visit) topped with plenty of jumbo lump crabmeat, in a lemon butter sauce with a roasted red potatoes and vegetable medley. I’ve lived at the coast most of my life, and have never had fish so perfectly cooked. This preparation is featured on the menu with Grouper- but if they have it, splurge on the Snapper. There are plenty of varieties, so if Red isn’t being fished, just ask the chef to recommend a substitute; he won’t steer you wrong.
The Bridge boasts a decent wine list with something for every price-point, nightly sangria and martini specials, and happy hour in the bar most nights. There is a bar menu for those who prefer a more casual nosh with their brew. During football season you are likely to see a few fans enjoying the games. Early evening specials are offered Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 4- 7 pm. (Glass of wine, salad, entree and dessert for $19.95. Without wine and dessert, $13.95)
There is plenty of room for large parties/groups, and the service is accommodating. A semi-private lounge area seats up to 30 for formal or informal gatherings. On Mondays the space may be rented for private parties.
Ponte Vedra locals will agree – save room for Jill’s bread pudding, it”s the ultimate comfort food. Luscious, warm and sweet, served in a vibrant pool of Whiskey Hard Sauce and topped with toasted chopped pecans, this dish is a little like the restaurant itself – deceptively simple and low-key, the flavor and textures surprise you every time.